If it weren't based on Franz Kafka's immensely popular short story, Russian director Valerie Fokin's The Metamorphosis would have been an amusing, visually sumptuous oddity and not much more. The narrative is interlarded with too many superfluous dreamlike flashbacks and surreal vignettes, somehow forgetting that what we're dealing with here is a man who has been physically transformed into a repulsive insect (already sufficiently dreamlike and surreal, no?), but has not, unbeknownst to his horrified family and employer, experienced a similar transformation of mind and soul.
As one director's cinematic interpretation of Kafka's story, however, this stands up to scrutiny rather well. No doubt the exceptional performance of Yevgeny Mironov as Gregor Samsa helps pull off this especially tricky adaptation. Mironov not only looks the part of Gregor, his writhing, fidgeting insect pantomime is both absurd and moving as well. My sole complaint is that his rendition of a civil servant is too much like Mr. Bean, methodical and petty. By encouraging us to laugh at Gregor in this way, either Mironov or Fokin is robbing him of the quiet humanity that will grant his metamorphosis the tragic element of the tragicomedy.
The Metamorphosis is worth watching for a number of reasons, most salient among them the excellent ensemble work between Mironov and Igor Kvasha, Tatiana Lavrova, Avangard Leontyev and Nataliya Shvets (we can tell from their interaction that Fokin is coming from a theatre background), and the marvellous photography, which borrows but doesn't imitate the style of Jeunet. This is just one of several films listed under this year's "international discovery" rubric, and based on his work here, Fokin seems to be quite a find indeed.